The Zygon Inversion: Terrorism is Terrorism.

Doctor: So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Why do people join “terrorist” groups? In particular why are so many people drawn to Daesh? Politicians, intelligence communities, law enforcement, and the media struggle with trying to come up with a cohesive answer to this question. A quick google search will reveal hundreds of articles examining this topic and providing various answers. The reality is that the answer is multi-layered, and complex, depending on the needs, wants, and personality of each recruit. Some do it for the power, others do it to find a larger purpose in their lives, some want the excitement, others do it because they are tired of watching Muslims being slaughtered and oppressed by Western imperialism, etc.

The one reason that has caught my attention is the one where those lured into joining Daesh, claim they are doing so based on notions of social justice. On the surface such reasoning seems absurd. They claim to be working towards justice for Muslims while slaughtering and killing thousands of Muslims because they consider them to not be “Muslim enough?” They enslave and rape women, train child soldiers and suicide bombers, and have an almost insatiable thirst for violence, yet they claim that one of their motivating factors is justice?  Some rightly point out that for many in Daesh, especially in the leadership, power might be the main motivator. Yet such division forgets that with power comes political agency. And to simply write off those who join Daesh as evil, ignores the many atrocities that the West has committed in the Middle East in the name of democracy and freedom.


What is the difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary? It depends on which side you are on. That sounds a bit glib, but the reality is that those in power and those who win, often decide how to frame certain wars. The American Revolution is framed as a fight against tyranny and a battle against British oppression. Yet the American Revolution was not free of atrocities, from either side. For example, the Pennsylvania militiamen attacked and killed a group pf peaceful Indians, who they believed were responsible for numerous raids on white settlements. .Numerous examples of massacres, tortures, and rape are documented in the French Revolution, done under the name of the “republic” which championed Enlightenment ideals such as freedom from tyranny and secularism.   Violence, regardless of its justification produces death, destruction and atrocities. Whether said death and destruction are minimized and justified or are lambasted and critiqued is a question of power politics. Those with the power, shape the telling of the story.

In the past decade the United States, along with various other Western countries have tried to depict the “War on Terror” as a just war against unmitigated evil. Terrorists/Daesh are completely different from the just and virtuous West. Daesh kills with impunity people of all ages: children, the elderly, the sick, etc. They rape and enslave women. And they install harsh penalties for the smallest infractions, such as smoking or wearing a niqab that is too tight, while committing larger transgressions that they assert are justifiable in their interpretation of Islam. Daesh engages in public executions, filming and disseminating beheadings, crucifixions, burnings, stonings etc through social media.  Their blood thirst seems to differentiate them from those of us who are civilized.

In the Zygon Inversion, even the Doctor seems to quantify the splinter group of radical Zygons has somehow different from regular Zygons and humans.

OSGOOD: Why do they want to destroy the ceasefire? 
DOCTOR: Don’t think of them as rational. They’re different. They don’t care about human beings, they don’t care about their own people. They think the rest of Zygon kind are traitors. 
It’s a splinter group. 

Yet, are they really that different from us, the so called good guys? Except for being sanctioned by the state and by the UN, what makes US use of torture, indiscriminate killings, and atrocities different from the horrendous acts that Daesh has done? Not to mention the fact that US history is filled with instances of the US supporting and funding authoritarian regimes throughout the world that end massacring their own people. Daesh publicly flaunts its atrocities, the US covers them up and buries them in the name of “national security.”

I think what scares many people in the West about Daesh, is not just the level of violence they use, but the fact that some of us have within ourselves the ability to commit violence and to do so under the banner of justice.

Kate, leader of Unit, representative of the Western response to radical groups such as Daesh, is blasé about the implications of wiping out all Zygons, even though the majority do not support the small splinter group.

KATE: What are we dealing with? 
DOCTOR: Twenty million Zygons about to be unmasked. You don’t know whether they are human or not. And you can’t fight them, not with soldiers. 
KATE: Which leads me to a very big question. 
DOCTOR: Oh, I was really hoping that it wouldn’t. 
KATE: The Zee-67, Sullivan’s gas, the gas that kills the Zygons. You took it. 
DOCTOR: Well, you know how it is. Daddy knows best.
KATE: That’s what’s in the red box, yes? Of course it is. If I remember rightly, it causes a chain reaction in the atmosphere. Turns every Zygon on Earth inside out. 
DOCTOR: Let me negotiate peace. You can’t commit mass murder.

How is Kate’s willingness to commit mass murder different from the splinter group’s? Both are reacting to instances of injustice.

BONNIE: We’ve been treated like cattle. 
DOCTOR: So what.
BONNIE: We’ve been left to fend for ourselves. 
DOCTOR: So’s everyone. 
BONNIE: It’s not fair. 
DOCTOR: Oh, it’s not fair! Oh, I didn’t realise that it was not fair! Well, you know what? My Tardis doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor. 
BONNIE: The things don’t equate. 

At some point, the desire for freedom and liberation from oppression becomes a justification for further oppression. The splinter group of Zygons have a point. They were treated badly, they have to hide their true selves to avoid being slaughtered. Likewise, Kate has very good reason to want to kill the Zygons. A small splinter group threatens to create a war that will kill millions, and it is impossible to tell who the “good” Zygons apart from the evil ones. So they all must die. Daesh, is not wrong when they point out Western atrocities. To put it bluntly, we have helped fuck up the Middle East. In the 80s we encouraged the rise of radical Islamists and provided arms for them to fight against the Soviet Union. Then when the Soviet Union left, we left them high and dry. We made some allegiances with radicals in the first gulf war, and then left them to whatever fate awaited them after the war. We have bombed schools, hospitals, and destroyed whatever fragile stability had once existed. And to top it all off we refuse to accept large numbers of refugees because we fear they might be terrorists in disguise. We, like the Doctor, want to tell Daesh and others critical of American foreign policy to just “get over it.” We want to act like the Doctor and say that what happened as happened. But in real life, we don’t get to hold that position. In real life, our government is engaging in terrorism in the name of national secruity. We don’t get to condemn Daesh while continuing to kill innocent civilians.


Well you can’t reason with Daesh, some say. A fancy speech won’t change their minds. That’s a statement that could be said about the United States and our allies. 14 damn years fighting in the Middle East, and previous decades spent meddling through small military action via the CIA and Special Forces units in the affairs of other countries, and we still don’t get. We still don’t understand that whether children are killed by the hands of the American military and our allies or by the hands of guerillas or terrorists groups, terrorism is terrorism. We don’t get to call Daesh terrorists and then claim that our bombs that burn children to death are justified and they are just “collateral damage”. We don’t get to deny our role in creating and funding groups like Daesh. Daesh needs to be stopped. But so does the West.

The Zygon Invasion: Falling Into Their Trap

DOCTOR: So, we have a Zygon revolution on our hands. We need to open negotiations.
KATE: I’m not negotiating with them. As far as they’re concerned, everyone’s a traitor. 
CLARA: If you’re not going to negotiate, what are you going to do?
KATE: They’re holed up in this settlement in Turmezistan. It’s where they’ve taken Osgood. I’m going to order Colonel Walsh to bomb it.
DOCTOR: Isn’t there a solution that doesn’t involve bombing everyone?
KATE: The treaty’s been comprehensively violated, Doctor.
DOCTOR: This is a splinter group. The rest of the Zygons, the vast majority, they want to live in peace. You start bombing them, you’ll radicalise the lot. That’s exactly what the splinter group wants.

It’s been 14 years since 9/11 yet it seems as if government leaders keep making the same mistakes over and over again. After 9/11 the United states government, in a desire for revenge rather than justice, hastily went to war in Afghanistan and then two years later, lied to the UN and the American people in an attempt to justify the war in Iraq. Since then American troops, albeit a small number are still stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq is threatening to break up into pieces, and the power vacuum left by the toppling of Saddam Hussein with no suitable replacement, led to extremist groups gaining a foothold in the country. Said extremists were prepared to take advantage of the chaos that followed the Arab Spring, especially in Syria when the regime decided to violently oppress predominately peaceful protesters.

Western response to 9/11 included the torture of numerous prisoners () and the massacre of at least hundreds of thousands of civilians, probably more , as well as to the de-stabilization of already fragile countries who before the invasion in 2001 and 2003 were already wrecked by economic instability and authoritarianism. Yet instead of trying to think of new ways to defeat terrorism, the West continues to deploy the same old tactic: bombing the hell out of the Middle East with little regard for whom we are killing.


After the attacks on 9/11, as well as more recent attacks in Paris, westerners, especially those who have lost a loved one, have asked similar questions over and over again. “Why my loved one? My family member, my best friend did nothing wrong. They weren’t political leaders in charge of foreign policy or military strategists charged with waging war. They were students/doctors/fathers/daughters/mothers etc.” And government leaders have seized on the grief and pain of a wounded nation to instill fear and hostility. America used 9//11 as an excuse to use torture, and the recent Paris attacks are being used as an excuse to shut our doors to refuges who are running form the very terrorists that we helped create and to  expand government surveillance and power.

Daesh and other extremists groups have done and continue to do horrific things. But the West is not innocent of shedding bloodshed.  We claim to be better than Daesh because we believe in liberty and freedom yet we deny people in Guantanamo Bay fair trials and we prey on the vulnerable in America and manufacture terrorist plots in order to stoke the fears of the public. We condemn Daesh’s senseless beheadings, yet we use drones to smash to smithereens young children. We condemn Daesh for treating all Westerners as evil, when we ourselves treat Muslims and others from the Middle East as if they have some gene in their body that when activated turns them into terrorists. We kill kill kill in response to Daesh’s mass killings and we create more and more terrorists. We use our bombs to destroy people’s livelihoods and loved ones and we push them into the hands of Daesh. They risk their lives to escape Daesh and we debate whether or not we should send them back where their only choices are certain death or joining Daesh.

WALSH: We think it’s a Zygon training camp. We never see more than one or two of them outside at any one time. But they always take different shapes, we don’t know how many there really are. We don’t know how they come and go. Whether they go through tunnels, or whether they turn into dogs and run out across the hills.
DOCTOR: So, that’s what we’ll find out.
WALSH: We should have that gas. We should be able to rip them inside out.

In The Zygon Invasion, the Unit characters frequently mention how the Zygons’ ability to change forms makes it extremely difficult to know who is a friend and who is a foe. Families are torn apart. In a similar way, it is feared that “they”- the terrorists, are among us, biding their time until they are given the opportunity to destroy our way of life. In case after case of those joining Daesh, the media presents the person as a normal man or woman before they somehow became radicalized: “They were just your average teenagers…”  Or “she drank and partied like the rest of us…” or “he showed no signs of radicalization.” The fact that Muslim terrorists make up only a small number of domestic terrorists (with white supremacists killing more people than those who claim to be killing in the name of Islam) does not matter. The fact that the refugee screening process in America is so strenuous that it would be difficult and time consuming for a member of Daesh to try to infiltrate them, makes no difference. We are told “They-the evil terrorists could be in our schools or in our local mosques.”

The FBI-whose funding depends on its ability to prove that it is protecting the nation from terrorism-often entraps those who working alone, could not have thought of a workable act of terrorism let alone actually carry it through to fruition. As a result the FBI has no qualms about stating that there are terrorists in every state.  When the enemy could be everywhere, it makes sense to want to bomb the shit out of them. And to be fair, the threat is real, in some places more than others. The fact that large scale terrorist attacks in the West are rare, does not nullify the pain and sorrow of those who happened to have lost a loved one due to one. And it is true that hundreds of Westerners have flocked to Syria to join Daesh.

In The Zygon Invasion, the small group of radical Zygons take advantage of their abilities to shape shift to present themselves as family members of the soldiers before slaughtering them.

HITCHLEY: You’re not my mom.
HITCHLEY’S MUM: Oh, God, you’re going to kill me.
HITCHLEY: Mom, please.
HITCHLEY’S MUM: You are. You’re going to kill me. I love you. I forgive you and I love you.
WALSH: Do it!
HITCHLEY: What proof? 
WALSH: Don’t go in there. You’re going to your death! 
WALSH [OC]: Hitchley, kill it.
HITCHLEY: Let’s go. Over and out, ma’am.
The radical Zygons have killed an untold number of people while holding others hostage. The response to destroy them, to wipe them out makes sense in a world where violence is often the measure of whether or not justice is served. But again and again the Doctor keeps on urging the unit and colonel Walsh not to kill, to not participate in a war that the radical Zygons so desperately want. Why? Because meeting the radical Zygons where they are, does nothing to end the bloodshed. It gives them what they want: death, suffering, and destruction.  The radical Zygons believe that they are being oppressed, that all humans are evil traitors who would kill all Zygons if their true forms were revealed. They want Unit and the military to wage war on them because that would force the other Zygons to fight or be killed. In a similar way, Daesh wants the West to respond with more fire power and to refuse to take in the refugees. Why? Because it fits into their narrative of an uncaring West who hates all Muslims.  Just like after 9/11 Bin Laden wanted to provoke a war with the West, and he got it. The fact that he was later killed and al Qaeda virtually destroyed in Afghanistan, has done nothing to slow down its affiliates in other countries and means very little when a new group, like Daesh takes its place.

We can’t control the actions of Daesh. But we can at least refuse to provide them with even more fodder to stoke their hatred. We can choose to be better. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t want to be better. Our government leaders do not want to think of a different way to contain Daesh. War is too lucrative. The FBI, CIA, and NSA amongst other agencies have been given substantial cash and legal leeway to do whatever they want. The military has seen its already bloated budget expand and even the so called cuts to their budgets, despite what top commanders say, do not in fact harm the military ability to wage war. In fact, even though we spend the most money of any nation on our military, we are still unable to win the wars we wage in the Middle East. Perhaps, 14 years in, it’s time for a new strategy.

The Woman Who Lived: A Plea to Care

DOCTOR: I’ve left you alone too long. I had no idea how much you’d suffered. But I remember the person you used to be. She’s still in there. I can help you find her. 
ASHILDR: Spare me your pity, I’m fine. 
DOCTOR: I think this is just another mask that you wear to protect you from the pain. 
ASHILDR: I think the alternative frightens you, that this is who I’ve become. 
DOCTOR: This is no way to live your life, de-sensitised to the world. 

Like the Doctor, the last time we saw Ashildr, she was an intelligent, compassionate young girl, whose love and belief in her village, as well as her vivid imagination captured the Doctor’s heart and enabled him to find a way to save the village without spilling anymore blood. Furthermore, the Doctor had been given an opportunity to save someone from death. To prevent death from gaining another victory. He said to hell with any laws/rules from the Time Lords that would thwart him from saving lives. He bought joy and hope to a village that had already lost so much. Many people think they would want to have immortality-but the problem with immortality is that you get to not only repeatedly experience the highs and joys of life-but also the utter devastations. Again and again death surrounds you. Again and again you get close to people-only to have them die. Immortality doesn’t grant you extra super powers-other than being able to outlive everyone else-you are still unable to stop all the wars and bloodshed going on around you. Or to stop the diseases that can devastate a village

ASHILDR: My love is dying. It broke my heart when the questions started and I knew I had to leave him. I returned to find an old man who smiles and thinks I am a dream. I am flesh and blood, my love, but all you see is a ghost. 

There are people who don’t give a damn about other people-they are so Self-absorbed that their ability to empathize with another person is nonexistent. Then there are others who care deeply about the wounds of the world and all the pain and suffering, but in order to survive they need to deaden their emotions. Their hearts become hardened.  And those with hard hearts have no qualms about causing other people suffering-whether they deserve it or not. Early in the episode Ashildr basically gloats about her military prowess in the hundred year’s war.

ASHILDR: The Battle of Agincourt. My first stint as a man. No-one will ever know that a mere woman helped end the Hundred Years’ War. 
DOCTOR: You’re immortal, not indestructible. You can be hurt, killed even. 
(He twangs the bowstring.) 
ASHILDR: Ten thousand hours is all it takes to master any skill. Over a hundred thousand hours and you’re the best there’s ever been. I don’t need to be indestructible, I’m superb. You should have seen me. I could shoot six arrows a minute. I got so close to the enemy, I penetrated armour. 
DOCTOR: How many people have you killed? 
ASHILDR: You’ll have to check my diaries. 
DOCTOR: You can’t remember?

The Doctor wants know what happened to her. Where did the girl he knew, go? Yet in reality he knows all too well what happens when one is witness to an unbearable amount of suffering and has no one else to turn too. You can’t help but be effected by a world soaked in misery and oppression. And to lose so many people…at some point one begins to think that not caring is the answer to avoiding pain.

DOCTOR: Oh, Ashildr, daughter of Einarr, what happened to you? 
ASHILDR: You did, Doctor. You happened.                                                                                    DOCTOR: I know you’ve suffered. Your children dying. 
ASHILDR: They would have died anyway. Human life is fleeting. People are mayflies, breeding and dying, repeating the same mistakes. It’s boring. And I’m stuck here, abandoned by the one man who should know what eternity feels like. Who should understand. 

Instead of learning to appreciate life, Ashildr has learned to take it for granted. She views other people-whose lives are so brief, with disdain. For her people are easily interchangeable. All lives follow a similar script-though as individuals we like to think we offer something unique to the world: we are born, a good number of us have kids, and then we die. We suffer and inflict suffering on others. We get overwhelmed with our daily concerns. Ashildr has seen it all and she is disgusted. Humanity never seems to learn. One generation experiences extreme suffering and says, “never again” only for the next generation to come up with new ways to cause misery.

Thankfully, as of right now, immortality seems a long way off. Can you imagine a world filled with the desensitized, angry, self-absorbed Ashildr? Well yes. Even with our finite life span, we humans manage to cut ourselves off from the suffering of others. Americans, how many civilians have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? 100,000, 500,000, a million? More?  No one outside the government knows and I highly doubt those within know as well. Why? Because our nation has decided that those lives don’t matter. I was going to say that our nation has decided that only western lives matter-but even then that’s not true.

How many Americans have been killed by police? The government doesn’t know, and the shootings it does count, are classified as “justifiable shootings.” Why? Because the government and the majority of Americans have said-not explicitly but through the shaping of the legal system-that police lives matter over the lives of poor white, black, and brown bodies. Those shot and killed by police are dismissed as criminal “thugs” even though, America ostensibly believes in presuming innocence until guilty. But police officers are allowed to act as judge, jury and executioner and those who dare condemn those actions are dismissed as “cop-haters.” The only ones keeping somewhat reliable data on police shootings is the Guradian, and even then they rely on people sending in articles and reporting the deaths. And in many cases-all they have to go on are what the police have told the media.

I can go on and on, listing tragic events that are often ignored or are briefly discussed. The various shootings that occur in America on a daily bases. The hundreds of thousands who die all over the world from starvation, civil war, and disease. We-those in positions of leadership and the average person have become desensitized to the suffering of others.

But then, like what happened to Ashildr, something wakes us up. Something jolts us from our stupor reminding us about the brevity of life and how it matters. Ashildr, thinking she would be able to escape this world and go on adventures, kills Sam Swift in order to open up a portal. But like the Doctor warned her, she was just being used by Leandro and his people. Through the portal the spaceships start attacking.

On Friday May 13, Paris was brutally attacked. Over 100 people killed, with hundreds more emotionally and physically injured. People are hearing the news that their loved ones are not coming home.   In Paris, hundreds of families members and friends are finding out that their own small world is crashing. And people thousands of miles away, across the globe are seeking to show our support for France and for the victims. People are allowing the news to touch their hearts. But how will the world react in a few days when the anger has been allowed to fester and set in?

All I can do is ask and pray that we don’t respond in kind. That we don’t allow this brutally attack on western shores to harden our hearts and cause us to inflict even more damage on the civilians of the Middle East, who will bear the brunt of any increased military action. I pray that we don’t hate the millions of refugees fleeing from the terrible situations that we in the West have contributed too. I am asking that we continue to care and that we expand our circle of those lives that we consider worthwhile. I am asking us to mourn, not just for the victims in Paris but to the victims in Africa, in Syria, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, etc everywhere else where death and destruction is reigning. I’m asking us to care about the poor, broken down cities in America and all across the world. Yes, it is overwhelming. No, as individuals we can’t do everything. But we can care. We can advocate for one or two issues close to our heart, and offer support for those whose passion causes them to focus on different issues. I’m pleading for open hearts.

The Girl Who Died

DOCTOR: Yes, I am a false Odin. That’s exactly right, I lied. The big fella in the sky, he lied too. You all know it. Because what’s the one thing that gods never do? Gods never actually show up! 

Life is unpredictable and scary. For those of us living with some degree of privilege we are able to contain that unpredictability by focusing on our jobs or work. Money can give us an illusion of control and stability. Yet we also seek control and protection in other ways. For many of us we look to our images of God to sustain us.  And one image that many of us hold onto is one of an all powerful God, who controls everything but who can sometimes be appeased if we pray or worship the right way.  This God can be manipulated to do what we want-though of course we don’t exactly use those terms, nor are we even aware that we have created a God that can be manipulated. We get the job that we prayed for, cancer goes into remission, and when things fall apart? Well if it happens to us or someone we care about we try to counsel ourselves and our loved ones with the thought that it was all in God’s plan, or that we are somehow being tested or that the devil is to blame for our pain and suffering. If suffering comes to those we don’t like then it is obviously their own fault. They disobeyed God and are being punished.

Many of us still view God as a cosmic figure living in the sky who decides, seemingly arbitrarily when to get involved. Yes, God answered your prayer for a job, but somehow the prayers of that family seeking to leave Syria and find safety in Europe, didn’t convince God to actively prevent their drowning. Or God saved you from a horrific crash, yet for some reason God decided that the others involved including a small child, needed to die.

We look for any proof of this God-even if this proof leads us to commit or endorse atrocities. Many members traveling to join the Islamic State, for instance, believe that the mere fact that the group has declared a caliphate and is gaining land is an answer to some prophetic revelation. There are some Christians, who believe that in order for the “end times” to occur and God’s reign to be manifested on earth, Israel needs to essentially wipe out the Palestinians and they use their money and political clout to endorse any action that furthers that goal, even if it means more dead Palestinian children.

In many ways the God imagined by many is not that much different from the ‘god’ the Doctor faces in this episode. The one he rightfully condemns as fake. He points out to the Vikings that this god tricked them in order to kill their best men. This ‘god’, who is in reality the leader of the Mire, is excited by war and destruction.


If we were honest with ourselves, the God many of us claim to worship really is no better. We have crafted an image of God who is vengeful and all powerful. Yeah sure, we talk about God’s love for humanity but in many cases we do so by focusing on the threat of hellfire.  This is the type of God I vehemently reject: an angry, supernatural deity that randomly decides to show prayer to some while rejecting others.

But is there an alternative? Yes. But it would mean letting go of notions of control and power. Power and control are often equated. The more power someone has the more control this person has. Humans project that desire onto a deity figure who we can then lay the responsibility and blame for anything that goes wrong or right in our lives. But what if-instead of an all powerful, distant deity we  imagined a God that  can’t help being hopelessly entangled in the chaos that is humanity.For Christians the notion of an actively involved God isn’t that far of a stretch. Many Christians believe that in some way, Jesus represents God’s involvement in the world. Whether Jesus is God or an agent of God-he represents a God who is not afraid to become a part of humanity.  This means letting go of some of our projections of an all powerful deity who randomly chooses to engage. It means being open to a God that wants a relationship with humanity-and relationships are mutual. We are changed by the other person, but the other person also changes us. Why not the same for God?  What if we asserted that God worked through us instead of against us or through divine supernatural acts?

As I was watching this episode, allowing myself to suspend disbelief for a second, I remember thinking, “you know if this were a ‘real’ situation, I would believe that God was working through the Doctor.” The Doctor claims that gods don’t show up, but God does-it just often takes the form of imperfect humans trying their best to not make things worse.

DOCTOR: The earth is safe, humanity is not in danger. It’s just one village.
CLARA: Just one village?
DOCTOR: Suppose I saved it by some miracle. No Tardis, no sonic. Just one village defeats the Mire. What then? Word gets around. Earth becomes a target of strategic value, and the Mire come back. And God knows what else. Ripples into tidal waves until everybody dies.

If the world were ever invaded by the Mire, and the Doctor existed, I would see God in the way the Doctor is convinced by Clara to not give up. To not just dismiss this small “village.” I would see God in how he changes his mind and decides to stay in the village. I would see God in how the Doctor finds a different way to defeat the Mire, a way that does not involve bloodshed or death. And I would see God when the Doctor, for better or for worse remembers why he chose this particular incarnation.


Now of course, this isn’t real life. But yet I still see God working in the world. In those who say no to another meaningless war. In those who say that “Black Lives Matter” and that state oppression and brutality needs to be stopped. I see God in those who stand up against those in power. Things don’t always end well for those who stand up against injustice. Our actions can have unattended consequences. The Doctor wanted to save Ashildr, but in doing so, he may have caused her great pain. A God that is perfectly in control can erase some of the chaos and messiness of life. But a God that works with and through humanity is working with a flawed creation that does the best it cans, but makes mistakes. Things don’t always neatly settled. Pain and suffering remains.  This image of God does not promise us stability and comfort, only the promise of working through us to make the world a better place.

Before the Flood: A Reflection on Breaking the Rules and Questions of Power

DOCTOR: I thought perhaps, because her ghost wasn’t there in the future, like Prentis’s was, I thought maybe, maybe it wouldn’t happen. Maybe she stood a chance. 
BENNETT: Yeah, but you didn’t try very hard to stop her, though, did you? It was almost like you wanted to test your theory. So who’s next? 
DOCTOR: Clara. 
BENNETT: Yeah. Yeah. Except now you’re going to do something about it, aren’t you? Yeah, because it’s getting closer to you. You change history to save yourself but not to save O’Donnell. You wouldn’t save her. 
DOCTOR: This isn’t about saving me. I’m a dead man walking. I’m changing history to save Clara. 

Rules.  Laws. Regulations. They help individuals, communities, and societies have a bit of order, especially during moments of chaos. And despite what many of us may think-especially those of us who are able to live a life of routine and comfort-life is always chaotic and fragile. We aren’t as in control as we like to think. But rules, laws, regulations as well as the punishments that arise when said regulations are broken provide us with the illusion of control. Not saying laws, rules, regulations are good or bad in and of themselves, what matters is asking who benefits from following certain laws? Who benefits from breaking them? Who gets punished for breaking them? In general those who create the laws, etc and enforce them often have more leeway in disregarding them and often suffer very little punishment. They do not have to think about those who are oppressed by certain laws/regulations, let alone about how they are able to carelessly disregard laws with no consequence.

Fans of Doctor Who know that despite the many good qualities of the Doctor-he is caring, he defends the world, he repeatedly tries to come up with solutions that do not entail violence-we also know that he can be manipulative, he has no qualms about breaking the very rules he states that others must follow, and he eschews his values when they are necessary (or convenient). For example, there are times when avoiding the death of others is not possible.  In those scenarios his reaction to their deaths can verge edge on the crassness and carelessness.

Despite the cliff hanger in Under the Lake, we knew that somehow the Doctor would survive. It was just a matter of figuring out how he would get out of this mess.  Despite the Doctor’s insistence on the importance of following the rules of time, we knew-or maybe I should just speak for myself-I knew that the rules don’t always apply to the Doctor and that chances are he would somehow break the very rules he claims to defend.

CLARA: What does it mean? 
DOCTOR: It means I die. 
CLARA: No, not necessarily. We can change the sequence of events so… 
DOCTOR: This isn’t a potential future. This is the future now.  It’s already happened. The proof is right there in front of you. I have to die. 
CLARA: No. You can change things. 

DOCTOR: I can’t. Even the tiniest change, the ramifications could be catastrophic. It could spread carnage and chaos across the universe like ripples on a pond. Oh, well, I’ve had a good innings. This regeneration, it’s a bit of a clerical error anyway. (to Clara) I’ve got to go sometime. 
CLARA: Not with me! Die with whoever comes after me. You do not leave me
DOCTOR: Clara, I need to talk to you just on your own. 

Clara, at least is very open with her feelings: she doesn’t give a damn about any rules or the consequences. If the rules would cause her to lose the Doctor, then the rules should be discarded. Sometimes rules are unfair and in those cases they should be broken-well at least when they benefit her.  But who wouldn’t feel a similar way? In fact, what I consider heart-wrenching about this episode is that I think most of us would break any rules that would prevent us from saving a loved one, everyone else be damned. And of course in the real world, I fully believe that are situations when rules and laws should be broken. But in determining when that should occur, it is important to return to some questions I asked earlier: who benefits from the rules? Who benefits from breaking them? And who gets punished from breaking them? In other words, questions of power and oppression are central in determining whether an individual or a society should follow a rule/law or disregard said rule/law.

American law enforcement needs to change. In other blog entries (click here or here) I’ve touched on structural racism as well as the stated purpose of the institution as reasons for change. Another reason law enforcement must reform is the fact that the very ones called to enforce the laws are often given extreme leeway when breaking them. The policies on the use of force (which varies on the federal level, as well as on a state and local level) are ostensibly meant to protect both civilians and law enforcement.  However, when a civilian is shot and killed by a police officer the benefit of the doubt is automatically given to the police officer. Especially when no video camera footage is involved. Investigations are handled “internally” or by “outside” law enforcement. The ones who are responsible for deciding whether or not to bring charges against the officer often have a close relationship with law enforcement.  Unlike in situations in which a civilian kills another person, officers are allowed a ‘cooling off’ period after a shooting. Grand juries are shrouded in secrecy, which makes understanding why many officers are not charged extremely difficult to understand and when the whole judicial system is under suspicion, it makes it difficult to trust that the grand jury is seeking to ensure the rights of both the accused and the victims.  Civilian review boards are often nothing more than a public relations move-they are given little power to actually implement recommendations and simply must rely on the police department, its union, or politicians to make much needed change.  Covering up and lying about the circumstances of shooting would justifiably bring charges against a civilian but the two officers who lied about the Sam Dubose shooting in order to back up their colleague, did not face criminal charges. In officer involved shootings, the officer is more often than not given the benefit of the doubt, which turns the notion of justice into a joke.

The United States rightfully condemns other countries whose human rights violations are well known. Yet, at the same time, it remains silent not only about the atrocities committed by allies such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt but the United states defends its own atrocious actions in the name of national security. Despite the senate intelligence committee’s report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, no CIA official has been held responsible for torture.  Although CIA whistle blower John Kirakou spent time in prison for detailing the agency’s use of waterboarding.Torture occurred in Abu Ghraib though not many, if any, people in the upper levels of the government were held responsible, and justice on Guantanamo Bay continues to be nonexistent.

In Before the Flood the Doctor eloquently describes why this particular situation is a time where rules can be broken:


And the Doctor is right. There are occasions in which breaking the law and disregarding the rules is the right thing to do. But there are also occasions when the Doctor is working out of pure selfishness, and Bennett is right to call him out on that.  Likewise, it is vital that when institutions of power argue that there are “good” reasons for breaking certain laws, questions about motive and power need to be asked. Those who participated in the civil rights movement, broke the law. They were willing to be arrested. But they fought to overturn unjust laws that were oppressing and killing black people. Conversely, the United States uses the justification of “national” security to justify torture, the denial of due process, and giving police officers impunity to kill. In this case, the justification of national security is a farce to allow the state to get away with murder and torture.

Under the Lake: To Protect and Serve?

DOCTOR: They’re not ghosts have been trying to kill you, why haven’t you abandoned the base? 
PRITCHARD: That was my call. We’ve got about a trillion dollars’ worth of mining equipment here. We’re not just going to abandon it What? If it all goes pear-shaped, it’s not them that lose a bonus. 
DOCTOR: It’s okay. I understand. You’re an idiot.

Pritchard, representing Vector Petroleum is the embodiment of human greed. Of course he would make the decision that he and the crew had to stay on the base. As he points out, the equipment is worth trillions of dollars plus he would forfeit any potential bonuses if things were to go wrong. Maybe it is just me, but I have to admit, I really did want him to die. His character was extremely one dimensional and he had no qualms about putting his life or the lives of others in danger for money. When the Doctor is shown the ship and he explains that it is missing some equipment, the look on Pritchard’s face is telling. You can see the gears in his head turning as he imagines the potential worth of said equipment.

PRITCHARD: I imagine they’re pretty valuable. 
DOCTOR: What? 
PRITCHARD: I mean powerful. Those power cells. I imagine they’re pretty powerful. 
DOCTOR: Well, they can zap a vessel from one side of the galaxy to the other, so, you know, take a wild stab in the dark. 
PRITCHARD: And the missing one must still be out there. 
DOCTOR: Yes, well, otherwise.

Pritchard’s greed ends up killing him as he ventures outside the submarine in a vein attempt to find the equipment. When he re-enters the submarine he discovers that for some reason the submarine’s settings have gone from morning to evening and he is confronted with Moran’s ghost, who then drowns him.

Despite the one dimensional portrayal of Pritchard, it is important not to dismiss the importance that greed can play when it comes to encouraging people to risk their own lives or the lives of others.

Cass and the other crew members, wisely value each other’s lives over the equipment and loss of money. Equipment can be replaced and money is useless when one is dead. As a result Cass makes the decision to abandon base.

CLARA: But we’re coming back, aren’t we? 
DOCTOR: Yes, we’re coming back.

The Doctor of course wants to stay. He wants to figure out what exactly is going on. He isn’t motivated by greed but by curiosity, yet he is notorious for allowing his desire to get answers to imperial the lives of others. Cass isn’t having it. She needs to protect her crew. Unfortunately her plan is foiled when they discover that the ghost had called in the rescue team before the crew has the chance to do so themselves. While at this point the Doctor and the crew do not know why the ghosts did that, the Doctor knows that the ghosts have a nefarious reason for doing so. As a result he calls off the rescue team and places the submarine in a quarantine.

Cass’ impulse to abandon the base is understandable. She has a crew to protect, people she has grown to care about and love, and their lives are in danger. If she can protect them, she will. In a similar fashion, law enforcement have the right and responsibility to protect themselves and the lives of others on their force. Many talk about their colleagues as part of their family. Most people, even those not in law enforcement, recognize that police should be able to protect themselves and their colleagues-even if it means the use of deadly force.  And of course family and friends want their loved ones to come home safe after every shift. Yet, is protecting their own lives at the heart of law enforcement? Is that why the institution of policing exists? That is the impression that one gets when one hears the details of shooting after shooting, especially when the victims are unarmed or are armed with a knife, a cane, etc. The officers involved invoke the “I feared for my life” defense. And when the person is unarmed, the officers response is, “I thought he/she was pulling out a gun” and as law enforcement is quick to point out, if an individual officer waits too long to see if the person does have a weapon it might be too late and the officer might not have time to “neutralize the threat.” The officer could be killed. Yet, as those committed to protect and serve the people, (not the State, though in practice, that is often what occurs) shouldn’t we expect them to confirm that the person indeed has a weapon, even if it is at great risk to their own lives?

Later in Under the Lake,  the Doctor begins to out why the ghosts were created.

CASS via LUNN: But why are they beaming out the coordinates? Is it a distress call? 
DOCTOR: It could be. 

Doctor: Or a warning. Might even be a call to arms. It could mean, come here, they’re vulnerable, help yourself. Wait a minute, though. Wait a minuet. Do you know what this means? It means that they’re not a natural phenomenon. It means that someone is deliberately getting people killed, hijacking their souls and turning them into transmitters. 

Eventually the Doctor figures out that for some reason the coordinates are leading back to the church in the underwater and abandoned town:

DOCTOR: Whatever the coordinates are for, it’s in that church. Find that and you’re a hop, skip and a jump to stopping them.

But Bennett points out that they are safe. They could leave the base since the ghosts are trapped. In other words, stopping the ghosts really isn’t their responsibility.

The Doctor acknowledges they have the right to leave, but he also asks them to consider what lies at the heart of their various occupations:

The Doctor points out that Cass, Lunn, and O’ Donnell have chosen careers whose stated mission is to protect and serve. As a result, it is their responsibility to stop the ghosts. Right now the ghosts are trapped, but they know nothing about the strength and capabilities of whoever is creating them. Their first duty is not to get to safety, but to protect others, to find out what is going on and stop it. Their lives matter, but their job description means that they cannot view their own safety as the end all be all.

As of October 18, 2015 The Guardian has recorded 920 people killed since the beginning of the year. To put the numbers in a bit of perspective, on 9/11, 2,977 people were killed. That was 14 years ago. The United States got myriad in two official wars, expanded its surveillance capabilities, and spent billions of dollars trying to track down those who killed 2,997 people through a horrific act of terrorism. If the numbers of shootings the guardian is recording is about normal for police shootings (of course we don’t know because there hasn’t been a comprehensive attempt to tally officer involved shootings) then the amount of people killed by police vastly out number those killed on 9/11, yet change in law enforcement is routinely resisted. Some might argue, “well the people were armed.” But what exactly does that mean? Armed has such a large and wide meaning that it can mean someone pointing a gun and firing at police officers but it can also mean a 17 year old mentally ill girl, with a knife. Or a 70 year old man with a cane (who survives being shot in the chest)

Even disregarding the serious questions that arise by the justice system’s willingness to blindly accept the police officer’s words, especially in cases where no video is present,  one has to wonder what the motivating force in law enforcement is. While many police officers no doubt are good people who desire to help others, with many performing heroic feats, the institution as a whole is based on fear and compliance. Officers are taught to fear each potential citizen and that their lives are always at stake, though it is important to note that police deaths have actually decreased. They are trained to shoot first and ask questions later. This isn’t to say that most police officers want to kill anyone. In fact, killing another person can emotionally devastate a person. But the training that officers undergo, leave serious questions about how law enforcement are trained to view their jobs and the ones they are called to protect.

The Doctor’s speech, manages to convince the crew to stay.

LUNN: Cass says we should go, but everything that happens here is her responsibility now, so she’s going to stay. So I, er, guess I should too. 
O’DONNELL: Well, count me in. Who wants to live forever, anyway? 
BENNETT: Sorry, er, have you gone insane? We can go home. 
(O’Donnell does a one shoulder shrug and grins.)
BENNETT: They’re ghosts, though. How can they be ghosts? Well, at least if I die, you know I really will come back and haunt you all.

If only nice speeches were enough to bring large systematic change. In Radley Balko’s book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, he extensively quotes former Maryland Cop Neill Franklin who discusses what he believes today’s police force have forgotten about the nature of their jobs:

“I think there are two critical components to policing that cops today have forgotten. Number one, you’ve signed on to a dangerous job. That means that you’ve agreed to a certain amount of risk. You don’t get to start stepping on other’s rights to minimize that risk you agreed to take on. And number two, your first priority is not to protect yourself, it’s to protect those you’ve sworn to protect. But I don’t know how you get police officers today to value those principles again. The ‘us and everybody else’ sentiment is strong today. It’s very, very difficult to change a culture.” (325)

I reject the notion that most police officers are evil or bad. Rather, they are human like the rest of us. With their own fears, dreams, biases, strengths and weaknesses. However, how they are trained impacts how they view their jobs and how they view the citizens they swore to protect.

The Witch’s Familiar: A reflection on justice, mercy, compassion and the War on Terror

DAVROS: Compassion then.
DOCTOR: Always.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn’t die of anything else.
DAVROS: You may rely on it.

After 9/11, George W Bush promised that those responsible would be brought to justice, “The search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

And to be sure, those who participate in a crime should be held accountable. Of course, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the actual hijackers were killed. But those who helped plan and train the hijackers as well as provide funding could be held responsible. But in this case justice was equated to American military might. While the American approach to justice is ostensibly about prevention, in reality it is about punishment and revenge. Those in the highest levels of the government were embarrassed by 9/11. How could a group of terrorists, no matter how well organized or funded, manage to attack the world’s only super power? Those in the intelligence agencies were embarrassed. The FBI, The CIA, The NSA, etc. the very ones charged with protecting the nation failed. And as a result, they vowed, “never again.” The nation embarked on a path that led to two failed wars, to massive government surveillance with very little oversight, to the scapegoating and vilification of American Muslims, to the stripping away of civil liberties and in a twist of fate: the very actions the American government took to eradicate terrorism simply created a power vacuum which enabled new terrorist groups, such as ISIS to thrive. And of course, in an attempt to defeat the new terror threat, the US government provided aid and/or weapons to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, two nations well known for funding various terrorist groups throughout the world.

The United States, in a quest for revenge and punishment, has killed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Iraq and Afghan civilians. Some wonder if one could claim that the United States committed genocide.

In Witch’s Familiar the Doctor is supposedly provided with the opportunity to destroy the Daleks. If there were any group in the universe that should be destroyed without a second thought, the Daleks would be it. They are hell bent on dominating the universe and are intent on creating a pure species. They are based on the Nazis who have to be one of the most hated villains in the world. In fact, the term genocide was coined after the Holocaust and the Holocaust stands as a marker of injustice and oppression. Who wouldn’t want to be able to go back in time and destroy the Nazis? Yet the Doctor refuses to destroy the Daleks. (Of course, he also knew that Davros was trying to trick him. But genocide isn’t an action that the Doctor takes lightly so I can’t imagine his response would be different if Davros had not been tricking him.)

DAVROS: The cables, Doctor. Touch them. Imagine, to hold in your hand the heartbeat of every Dalek on Skaro. They send me life. Is it beyond the wit of a Time Lord to send them death? A little work and it could be done.
DOCTOR: Er, why would you be telling me this?
DAVROS: Genocide in a moment. Such slaughter, not in self-defence. Not as a simple act of war. Genocide as a choice. Are you ready, Doctor? So many backs with a single knife. Are you ready to be a god? 

It is a bit intoxicating to imagine that one has the power to eradicate an embodiment of evil. I, know that if given the option to destroy the Daleks, the Nazis, the Islamic state, etc. I would have a difficult time passing up the opportunity.  The United States, after 9/11 believed it had the power to destroy terrorism. Not just Al Qaeda, the engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan were not called “the war on al Qaeda” or “the war on Saddam Hussain” but the US launched a “War on Terror.” And this war continues not just in Afghanistan and Iraq (despite the official “end” of the Iraqi war) but also in Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan. Not to mention the hundreds of countries that US Special Forces are in. Even now, even as Iraq is falling to pieces and the Islamic state continues to advance in Syria, the United States continues to at least publicly push the idea that it can eradicate terrorism.


The United States government did not hesitant to deploy its military force into Afghanistan on the wake of September 11. And it even attempted to use 9/11 as a justification in Iraq.  The desire to eradicate terrorism is used to explain the US involvement in Syria and Yemen, even as it is forced to join forces with Al Nusra front in and other terrorist groups in Syria-the very ones they are fighting in Iraq!

For the Doctor genocide is not even an option.

DAVROS: Compassion then.
DOCTOR: Always.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn’t die of anything else.
DAVROS: You may rely on it.

Davros viewed the Doctor’s compassion as a sign of weakness and stupidity. In fact, that would be Davros’ undoing. The Doctor recognizes that Davros is using him and when the Doctor’s regeneration energy flows to the Daleks, the he knows that it would also strengthen the Daleks in the sewers who would then rise up against the “living” Daleks. Now one wonders, isn’t the Doctor being unjust when he leaves the Daleks and Davros to be killed by the sewer Daleks? Isn’t the Doctor being unmerciful? I’m not sure. I struggle with that question. On the one hand, part of me wonders, “Well isn’t he just leaving Davros to die? How is that merciful?” Yet on the other hand, I can also see Davros’ fate as the result of his own actions. Davros continued to try to manipulate the Doctor and he tried to use the Doctor’s regeneration energy for his own purposes. If Davros hadn’t been so blinded by his desire for immortality and his corruption, if he had thought about his actions a bit harder, he might have realized that the Doctor’s energy would spread to ALL the Daleks on Skaro. Not just the ones directly under his control.  This brings up the question of justice and mercy/compassion. Are those concepts incompatible with one another? Does justice negate the possibility of mercy and compassion or vice versa. If the answer is yes, then the Doctor was behaving unjustly. But if justice and mercy/compassion can coincide, I wonder if it is possible to state that justice was served yet the Doctor was able to also show mercy/compassion? And what his actions toward Missy? He tells her to run and refuses to take her with them on the TARDIS to safety, after he discovers that she was trying to get him to kill Clara. Though perhaps he knew that she would somehow escape? She always does.

In regards to American domestic and foreign policy after September 11th: there was no discussion, at least publicly on what justice and compassion/mercy would mean in this context. Justice was immediately equated with punishment and American military might. Very little thought, if any, was given to alternative reactions to Afghanistan. What if the United States, in an attempt to truly get serious about ending terrorism, decided to stop sponsoring terrorist states? For example, Saudi Arabia was not condemned for its endorsement and spreading of Wahhabism, which can be argued is the underlying theology of many terrorist organizations. What if the United States decided it was going to stop supporting authoritarian regimes that oppress its people? What if instead of invading Afghanistan (and later Iraq) the United states decided to up its humanitarian aid and send an “army” of diplomats, activists, nonprofits,  who would work with the civilians there in an attempt to make joining terrorist organizations less applying. Even if all the aforementioned suggestions sound horrible, what if the government spent the same amount of money trying to think of nonmilitary options as it does on expanding the military?

The Doctor, who is by no means perfect, is at least willing to entertain questions of mercy, compassion and justice. The Doctor is willing to entertain the idea that sometimes mercy and compassion should hold sway rather than a desire for punishment and revenge.